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Fall semester classes again online; small group to return to campus

June 22, 2020

Only a small portion of students will be on campus this fall, while the rest are again asked to take a semester of online classes from home.

The decision comes as a surprise after multiple NESCAC peer schools, including both Bates and Colby, have announced a return to campus for all students.

President Clayton Rose announced the decision in a message to the College community on Monday morning. He acknowledged that the decision would leave many students “deeply disappointed.”

In the message, Rose assured students that “there will be no increase in … tuition for the Fall 2020 semester” at Bowdoin, which had a $1.74 billion endowment as of June 30, 2019. The fall semester tuition will be $33,935 for those living on campus and $27,911 for students living off campus.

Rose and the Board of Trustees rejected the four “academic scenarios” presented by the Return to Campus Group in a 39-page report sent to Rose earlier this month.

The group allowed to return to campus will include first years, transfer students, students with “home situations that make online learning nearly impossible,” senior students who are working on honors projects that require access to physical spaces on campus and Residential Life staff. All students will live in single bedrooms, and dining will be provided in “staggered meals in Thorne Hall.”

According to a separate FAQ page, students who return to campus will have to agree to a social contract regarding health and safety at Bowdoin.

“This contract will include standards of personal care—including hygiene, face coverings, and physical distancing, as well as testing and tracing standards. Students who choose to come to campus will not be permitted to leave Maine for the duration of the semester.”

Students, faculty and staff on campus will be required to follow social distancing and safety practices and will also be tested for the coronavirus (COVID-19) at least twice weekly. They will also be required to take part in a contact-tracing program.

The FAQ also explained that students found in violation of the contract will “likely be disciplined via our social conduct standards, which range from a reprimand to separation from the College.”

Rose wrote that nearly all classes, with the exception of first-year seminars, would be conducted online. This includes all other courses that first years will take, as well as all courses that other groups of students living on campus will take.

“Allowing faculty to focus on a single model of teaching, and directing our resources to that single model—rather than a hybrid model—will create the conditions for crafting powerful online course offerings,” Rose wrote.

The plan includes a typical 15-week semester with classes beginning on September 2, and exams ending on December 21. Students returning to campus at the beginning of the semester will leave before Thanksgiving and complete their courses online.

According to the FAQ, first-year students seeking to take a gap year are warned: “depending on how many deferral requests we receive, you may be required to defer your enrollment to the fall of 2022.”

Students choosing to take a “voluntary leave of absence” for the fall will not be permitted to transfer course credit from another institution to Bowdoin.

Rose explained students living on campus will be permitted “limited use of facilities, including the library and other on-campus buildings.”

The FAQ clarifies this only extends to those living on campus: “Students living off campus in Brunswick will not be permitted to be on campus and will not be permitted to use on-campus resources, including the athletic fields. Athletes who are living in Brunswick will not be able to participate in any on-campus athletic practices or competitions.”

In regards to the spring semester, Rose explained “if the fall semester goes as we hope” he expects to have our seniors, juniors and sophomores back to campus, although he noted that “priority” would be given to seniors. He said that a final decision about the spring semester would be made by November or December.

Students on campus will return home for Thanksgiving and will finish the semester remotely. Rose wrote he anticipates “that our first-year and transfer students will study remotely in the spring.”

Bowdoin fall and winter athletic teams will not play their seasons, although the NESCAC has yet to cancel conference play for any sports.

Rose wrote, “I am hopeful that there will be an opportunity for the winter, spring, and possibly fall varsity athletes to participate and compete in some form after January 1.”

Students who are “unable to come to campus for health, international travel restrictions, or other reasons” will be able to take remote classes.

“Students who have home situations that make online learning nearly impossible can apply to return to campus in order to find arrangements that will allow them to engage and study in an environment that is conducive to the demands of a Bowdoin education,” Rose wrote. “A committee is being established to assist students who request this on-campus option.”

Rose said “faculty and staff will be at full strength” and that staff members will not be furloughed, but he also explained he anticipated the College to have its largest budget deficit ever in the 2020-2021 academic year. Resultantly, faculty salaries will be frozen and senior officers will have salaries reduced by 10 percent.

There will be a “town hall” meeting for both faculty and staff today. On Tuesday, another two town halls will be held, the first at 6:30 p.m. for returning students and families and the second at 8:15 p.m. for incoming first-years, transfer students and families.


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  1. Albert Mayer '03 says:

    I respectfully disagree with the decision. The sum of what Bowdoin can offer its students, the community, and society in these times outweighs the risk of the virus to most people. All should be allowed to attend class online and avoid campus if they so choose, but that valid choice should not be imposed on everyone, at such a cost.

    • Laura '15 says:

      Even if students are willing to take that risk, it puts faculty, staff, and the Brunswick community at disproportionate risk without a choice. Maine has the highest population percentage of 60+ of any state.

  2. Jon Treadwell '90 says:

    Regarding the twice-a-week testing of those on campus in the fall. I assume this will be a PCR test for active infection, not a test for antibodies (the latter are notoriously unreliable). Hopefully, those doing the testing are aware that taking an adequate nasopharyngeal swab requires expertise and therefore training. And it would be nice to know the name of the test manufacturer, since some tests have undergone more rigorous development that others.

  3. Bill says:

    Check our what Williams is doing. Well thought through plan to return to campus coupled with a tuition discount.

  4. Class of '77 says:

    Methinks Bowdoin’s students are getting screwed. Paying $27,911 for an education you can get at the online University of Phoenix for $9,552. And frankly, because the University of Phoenix has been doing the online distance education thing for years, they’re offering is probably a hell of a lot better than anything Bowdoin can put together in a matter of months. Yet, not a peep of dissent from the Bowdoin student body. I don’t get it but if I were still in college today, I’d take a year off because what you have coming is not the college experience you are paying for. Compared to other colleges and universities around New England, I’d say Bowdoin is acting pretty cowardly. Clayton Rose lacks a spine and hasn’t done anything positive since coming to Bowdoin. The students and alumni really need to band together and oust this guy.

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